CEO who oversaw $470K bin centre construction leaves NAC

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By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) announced on Friday (21 Oct) that the CEO of National Arts Council (NAC), Ms Kathy Lai, will be returning to IE Singapore after completing her 3-year tenure in NAC by the end of this month.

She will assume the appointment of Deputy CEO (Special Duties) at IE Singapore. The Deputy CEO of NAC, Paul Tan, will temporary helm the council until a permanent CEO can be found.

MCCY praised Ms Lai for her service in NAC, “Ms Lai has played a significant role in facilitating the growth of the arts in Singapore. She oversaw the re-opening of the iconic performing arts center – the Victoria Theater and Concert Hall, the return of the Singapore International Festival of the Arts in 2014 and Singapore’s return to the Venice Biennale in 2015.”

“Under her leadership, NAC spearheaded partnerships with key stakeholders to commission a series of creative arts programmes and exhibitions ranging from music, visual, literary arts, to traditional and contemporary arts in celebration of SG50,” MCCY added.

Professor Chan Heng Chee, Chairman of NAC, also praised Ms Lai, “Kathy has strengthened NAC and won the respect of the arts community during her stewardship. Her leadership provided vision and challenged the staff to reach higher standards of excellence.”

“Figures of public participation in the arts have gone up. Under her watch, meaningful partnerships between countries were established as part of growing new markets and audiences for our Singapore artists,” Prof Chan added.

Ms Yeoh Chee Yan, Permanent Secretary of MCCY, joined in the praise, “Kathy’s efforts in promoting the development of the arts in Singapore are commendable. On behalf of the Ministry, I would like to thank Kathy for her contributions and dedicated leadership of NAC in its mission of championing the arts in Singapore and beyond, and making the arts accessible to all.”

The $470,000 bin centre incident

However, MCCY did not mention that under Ms Lai’s supervision as CEO of NAC, the Auditor-General’s Office had found that NAC paid a high consultancy fee of $410,000 for the construction of a bin centre costing only $470,000 (http://theindependent.sg/nac-defends-itself-with-new-statement-on-bin-centre-saga).

When AGO published the report on NAC in the middle of this year, it generated a lot of controversies in Singapore. “There was inadequate assessment on the reasonableness of the exceptionally high consultancy fee, at 87.2 per cent of the cost of construction,” AGO said about the bin centre.

Understandably, the public was enraged. Soon, all kinds of sarcastic remarks started to appear on social media (http://theindependent.sg/nacs-rubbish-bin-centre-was-part-of-cultural-and-heritage-redevelopment-efforts-govt-explains).

MCCY and NAC then tried to defend themselves. MCCY told AGO that the construction of the bin centre “was more complex and required significantly more design expertise, technical consultancy services and effort to coordinate with multiple parties” and these were the reasons for the fee to be above the norm.

But the AGO noted that these reasons were not cited in the approval paper for the draw down of funds. It also found that NAC had directly engaged consultants without conducting due diligence by first conducting a cost assessment on the reasonableness of the fee. AGO said that NAC failed to use the norm methodology – percentage of the quoted fee over the construction cost of the works – to assess the fee (http://theindependent.sg/would-grace-fu-tell-prof-chan-to-return-410k-back-to-taxpayers).

NAC said that the bin centre was not a standalone project. It said that the bin centre serves 3 buildings: Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and Old Parliament House.

“This would allow for improved operational processes and enhance the aesthetics of the area,” it said. NAC further emphasized that the bin centre construction cost was “less than 1% of the development cost” for the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, and argued that it was complex to build.

“The consultancy services included a feasibility study taking into account the various requirements of three separate institutions — ACM, VTVCH and Old Parliament House. The needs of each stakeholder had to be met while providing a holistic solution for the whole precinct. The consultancy services also included technical study, design proposal, design documentation, tender and contract administration, compliance with all regulatory requirements, etc,” it added.

Netizens not convinced of arguments

Still, many netizens did not buy the arguments and continue to question MCCY and AGO:

Emily Xu: Waaa so u r saying the bin centre for HDB flats not complex?? Hey one bin centre served about 4-6 blocks of HDB wor!!! So u r saying HDB underpay?? Seriously?? Who r u trying to smoke?? No matter how many parties, ain’t they all under taking budget from one dept?? So difficult to ask them coordinate?? 87% consultancy fees is way too much!! Construction fees $470k considering all the restrictions n difficulties sound reasonable but $410k consultancy is super over pay!! R u saying u need to do a thesis or 5-10yr research paper on the feasibility before start work??

Gan Yew Dow: I believe the explanations given here were actually given by the consultants. What I want to stress is that NAC has kena “ketok”.

Modileexi RT: Wonder y Disgracefu n NAC gv so complex answer to the public concerns on 410K consultant fee??? Just tell pure bred Singkies that when they buy a bowl of kuew tio mee soup will cost $3 at most but when royalty of their kind buy the similar bowl of kuew tio mee soup it must cost at least $3000, for the very simple reason that the cost must appropriately serve to reflects on the extremely royal status of their royalty ! Thus it is perfectly right that the consultant charge 410K for his work, else he be seen disrespectful to their royalty !

Ahdebus Meh: Haiz, bo jio me for the bidding. I charge 100k nia, i will also bao feng shui, astrology, zi wei dou shu all in one package. For additional 50k, i can even summon Sir Stamford to voice his opinion. Next time jio me k?

Andrew Tan: NAC must be run by some idiots thinking everyone else are more idiots than them to be fooled.

Low Keng Lum: Still defending ? Idiot still an idiot cannot change !

John C G Lee: NAC is spending public money, hence, the need for higher accountability & good corporate governance… Sorry, your explanation Is lame! Before, NAC challenge Grant applicants on their corporate governance & business plan, “overhaul yourself” ASAP as you have lost public credibility !

It’s not known why Ms Lai did not carry on as CEO of NAC for another term given that NAC has yet to identify a suitable CEO to take over.